DARK WATER (2005)
Starring Jennifer Connelly, John C. Reilly, Pete Postheltwaite, Dougray Scott, Tim Roth, Camryn Manheim, Ariel Gade, Perla Hainey-Jardine, Debra Monk, Linda Emond, Bill Buell, J.R. Horne, Elina Löwensohn, Warren Belle, Alison Sealy-Smith, Simon Reynolds, Kate Hewlett, Jennifer Baxter, Diego Fuentes, Zoe Heath, muMs, Matt Lemche and Edward Kennington.
Screenplay by Rafael Yglesias.
Directed by Walter Salles.
Distributed by Hollywood Pictures. 105 minutes. Rated PG-13.
Asian horror has become a huge cult success. The films have a tendency to toy with the conventions of ghost stories, putting mood and quick shocks over old-fashioned phantom lore or coherent stories. In recent years, these films have been making their way to the US, with Americanized remakes of some of the more popular Asian ghost stories like The Ring, The Grudge and the upcoming Skeleton Key becoming cheap-and-easy-to-make thrillers.
Dark Water is yet another of these remakes. In fact, in theory it is probably the most promising. It certainly has more talent behind it than any of the previous retreads.
It stars an Oscar-winning and very serious actress in Jennifer Connelly. Other award-caliber castmates include John C. Reilly (Chicago), Tim Roth (Pulp Fiction), Pete Postlethwaite (In the Name of the Father), Dougray Scott (Mission Impossible: 2) and Camryn Manheim (The Practice). The screenplay was written by Rafael Yglesias, whose 1994 Oscar-nominated adaptation of his own novel Fearless was one of the ten best films of the 90s. Revered Latin American director Walter Salles (Motorcycle Diaries, Central Station) is making his Hollywood debut.
So, Dark Water has a hell of a lot of talent in front of and behind the camera. Too bad what comes of all that flair is squandered on an extremely well-made, pretty-scary-but-also-kinda-dumb thriller.
The problem is that so much time and effort is expended on atmosphere, which is appropriately paranoid and stifling, that they didn’t take the time to realize that there was nothing truly horrifying going on. Add to that the fact that the plot was alternately very predictable (after a while, even the densest audience member is going to notice that there must be a reason why they keep showing the water tower on the roof for no particular reason) and rather silly (black rain inside an apartment may be scary at first, but eventually it just becomes an overwrought renter’s nightmare) and you have an interesting experiment that misfires more than it lights up. (Must be all that moisture around.)
Connelly plays Dahlia, a depressed and scared New York woman in the middle of a divorce with her ex (Dougray Scott) and a bitter custody battle over their cute little daughter (Ariel Gade). Desperate to find a home which will prove that she can provide a stable home, Dahlia takes an apartment in one of the most dank and decrepit tenements on nearby Roosevelt Island. It is hard to believe that anyone ever would rent in this hell hole, until one simple fact is explained that makes it all make some weird sense – it is a two-bedroom apartment in the New York area that costs $900.00 a month. Anything under $1,000.00 a month in New York is either going to be a war zone, rat-infested or the size of a Buick, so you can almost understand how Dahlia becomes desperate enough to be a tenant here. Besides, as she explains to her husband, it has a good school right across the street.
Too bad the apartment was even worse than she could imagine. (Dark Water really is the first film to point out that cheap real estate in the five boroughs MAY KILL YOU!) She’s not there for a day before she notices a leak of strangely-colored liquid trickling into her bedroom. She hears strange sounds in the apartment above her. A couple of juvenile delinquents from the building start harassing her. There is also a vague story going about the building about a girl disappearing from the upstairs apartment.
As the dark water continues to intrude into her living space (leaking faster from the roof, pouring out spigots, welling up toilets and drains) her glib landlord (Reilly) and spooky super (Postelthwaite) give her the run around as Dahlia’s grasp on sanity becomes more and more tenuous. She hired a gypsy lawyer (Roth – and yes, I thought the idea of a rootless lawyer was impossible, too, before this film) to work the divorce and he helps her with her tenant’s complaints as well. But, evil is loose and leads to a really weird (and not in a good way) climax – one that makes little sense dramatically or for the character.
Connelly, in all fairness, gives it all she’s got – she plays this hocus pocus as intently as if she was in Requiem For a Dream or A Beautiful Mind. However, sadly, this film makes only slightly more sense than her last horror film – a silly Italian slasher flick called Phenomena made when she was only about twelve. The rest of the cast also struggles heroically to impart some gravitas to the goings on. Salles’ direction is phenomenally evocative and moody (though not exactly horrifying.) The script is well-written enough as well, but the situations (mostly from the original Asian film) are just too dumb to take seriously. (7/05)
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2005 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: July 16, 2005.